Well, well, the little French girl is all grown up. The new uptown Amelie’s, at 301 S. College St. (in the old College Place restaurant space, if you’ve been around Charlotte for more than 10 years) got ready for today’s opening with a VIP party Monday night.
Before the swells arrived on a red carpet, president and partner Bruce Willett took a few members of the media around for a tour and a chance to snap pictures at one of the few times the new spot will be empty. While I was wishing they’d open that glass case full of macarons, I jotted down a few things I didn’t know:
▪ This is the 5th Amelie’s location, joining the NoDa original and expansions in Rock Hill, Carmel Commons and Atlanta. It’s also more than double the size of the NoDa space.
▪ Mary Jayne Wilson, the executive chef, has to juggle all the food at all the locations, and everything is made from scratch. She was in the first class at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, and a bunch of her kitchen staff came from JWU, too. Her favorite things are the crepes and the macarons: “They’re like a blank canvas.” Since she added seasonal macaron flavors, the sales have passed the famous salted caramel brownies, with 20,000 sold at the NoDa location just in October.
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▪ Those Jay-Woos already have experience being stared at while they work through the windows at the Charlotte campus. That will come in handy: They built the baking kitchen so you’ll be able to see it through the windows when you pass by on College Street. Look, drool, remember that you haven’t had breakfast yet. Yes, that’s intentional.
▪ Willett, one of the three partners, was the founder of Salsarita’s, but he’s more into restaurant management than cooking. When he started realizing how complex a little patisserie can be, Wilson set him straight: “A little more complicated than grilling chicken and making salsa, isn’t it?”
▪ Co-owner Brenda Ische is still the person behind all that fun/funk French stuff that decorates the shops. She gets 75 to 82 percent of her finds at Habitat ReStore, including all those crazy chandeliers she builds. (She calls the look “Alice in Wonderland meets Marie Antoinette.” Yes, that’s Marie perched against one wall. Ische wanted her hanging from a trapeze, but the fire department said no.)
▪ The coolest thing in the new spot isn’t from ReStore, though: Look in the corner for the upside-down light-up tree, complete with trunk. Ische found it at the Furniture Mart in High Point, and had the idea to hang it from the ceiling. All 200 pounds of it.
▪ It’s still order-at-the-counter and take a seat. Choose from lots of seats, tucked all around the odd space. There’s also a new space upstairs that holds 70 and can be used for special events, like work parties, bridal showers and birthday parties.
▪ The odd space has multiple levels and remainders of the old ramps (there’s still a ramp in the back of the kitchen, and if you know where to look, you can still see parking-space lines in one area of the floor). That’s because it originally was part of the parking for the parking deck behind it.
▪ Counter service may go a little faster than at NoDa: There are three lines, with two for people who want sandwiches or pastry. There’s a separate small coffee bar in the back, and a full coffee/beer/wine bar on the side. Yes, you can get wine at lunch. Not that I’m suggesting it. Also French-style seasonal sodas from their own syrups. The new menu includes the soups (yeah, spinach/asparagus/leek returns to uptown), salads, French-ish sandwiches and savory crepes, besides all those pastries.
▪ Willett has been loitering downtown while they’ve been building the space. So he knows a lot of us like to park somewhere for meetings with food.
▪ Yes, late-night pastry cravers, they are planning to try staying upon all night on weekends, possibly starting New Year’s Eve. We’ll keep you posted.
The new location should be open now: Hours for the moment will be 6 a.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday and until 2 a.m. Friday-Saturday.